Last year, a rare discovery was made in Southwark, of a Roman sarcophagus — and later this year it is to go on public display as part of a new exhibition.

The sarcophagus was excavated from Harper Road in Southwark, near the Elephand and Castle. This was a stretch of land just outside Roman Southwark, already known to be scattered with roadside burials and mausolea.  The burial site was uncovered on the western side of a newly-discovered Roman road, and may have been associated with and cutting into a substantial Roman chalk wall — thought to be part of an even earlier mausoleum.

This is the most recent Roman sarcophagus to be found in London. The lid of the coffin was found partly pushed to one side, indicating it might have been disturbed by 18th century grave robbers.

Photo: Southwark Council

It will now feature in an exhibition, Roman Dead, which will be at the Museum of London Docklands.

London’s complex Roman burial landscape is an important source of historical knowledge, providing insight into Romans’ religious beliefs and their treatment of the dead. The exhibition will investigate the cemeteries of ancient London, examining the discoveries that were made there and their context within today’s modern cityscape.

Exotic grave goods from across the Roman Empire are just some of over 200 objects that will be going on display, some for the first time ever.

Highlighted are an expensive multi-coloured glass dish found with cremated remains and a jet pendant in the form of Medusa’s head, thought to protect the dead, perhaps on their journey to the Underworld. The exhibition will explore themes of cremation, inhumation and ritual as well as some unusual and sometimes disturbing burial practices.

Deviant burials will include a number of men’s skulls which show signs of a violent death and were buried in pits by London Wall in the City of London.

The free exhibition will open on 25th May runs until the end of October.


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